Trump blasts Rus­sia ac­tions be­fore Putin meet­ing

Pres­i­dent finds en­thu­si­as­tic crowd in Poland

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

Pres­i­dent Trump on Thurs­day sharp­ened the lines of di­vi­sion be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow a day ahead of his highly an­tic­i­pated first meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, crit­i­ciz­ing Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary ac­tions in Ukraine and Syria and prais­ing NATO for its vi­tal role in de­fend­ing Europe against ag­gres­sion.

Speak­ing to tens of thou­sands of en­thu­si­as­tic Poles in War­saw, Mr. Trump laid out clear ex­pec­ta­tions for changes in Rus­sian be­hav­ior as he pre­pared to meet Mr. Putin face to face on Fri­day in Ham­burg, Ger­many, the site of the an­nual Group of 20 sum­mit, where riot po­lice were de­ploy­ing wa­ter can­nons and tear gas in clashes with throngs of demon­stra­tors.

“We urge Rus­sia to cease its desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine and else­where and its sup­port for hos­tile regimes in­clud­ing Syria and Iran, and to in­stead join the com­mu­nity of re­spon­si­ble na­tions in our fight against com­mon en­e­mies and the de­fense of civ­i­liza­tion it­self,” Mr. Trump said in Krasin­ski Square, as the au­di­ence in the for­mer Soviet-bloc nation chanted his name and re­peat­edly in­ter­rupted his speech with ap­plause.

But Mr. Putin promptly de­liv­ered an­other af­front to the U.S. ahead of his meet­ing with Mr. Trump, as Rus­sia blocked a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion drafted by the U.S. that called for “sig­nif­i­cant mea­sures” in re­sponse to North Korea’s launch of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

While Mr. Trump had tough words for Rus­sia, he con­tin­ued to voice doubts about claims that Moscow med­dled in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to tilt the scales against Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton.

At a news con­fer­ence in War­saw, Mr. Trump re­peated his as­ser­tions that Rus­sia likely hacked U.S. elec­tion sys­tems, but he said he doesn’t trust the con­clu­sion of U.S. in­tel­li­gence agencies.

“I agree. I think it was Rus­sia, and I think it was prob­a­bly other peo­ple and/ or other coun­tries,” Mr. Trump said. “And I see noth­ing wrong with that state­ment. No­body re­ally knows for sure.”

Mr. Trump slammed for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for do­ing noth­ing about the hack­ing, say­ing the Demo­crat made a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion to stand down. He said Mr. Obama ig­nored Rus­sian med­dling in the elec­tion be­cause he be­lieved, as did most other peo­ple, that Mrs. Clin­ton would win the elec­tion.

“The rea­son is he thought Hil­lary was go­ing to win,” Mr. Trump said. “If he thought I was go­ing to win, he would have done plenty about it. His peo­ple said he choked. I don’t think he choked.”

Mr. Obama re­port­edly learned of the Rus­sian med­dling as early as Au­gust but did not take ac­tion un­til af­ter the Nov. 8 elec­tion, when he im­posed sanc­tions on Moscow and ejected dozens of sus­pected Rus­sian spies from the U.S.

With mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Wash­ing­ton look­ing into the Rus­sian hack­ing and sus­pected col­lu­sion be­tween Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials and Moscow, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers jumped on Mr. Trump’s less-than-cer­tain an­swer about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence and ac­cused him of show­ing weak­ness to­ward Rus­sia be­fore his high­stakes meet­ing with Mr. Putin.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, the top Demo­crat on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, said Mr. Trump’s com­ments “di­rectly un­der­mine U.S. in­ter­ests.”

“This is not putting Amer­ica first, but con­tin­u­ing to prop­a­gate his own per­sonal fic­tion at the coun­try’s ex­pense,” said Mr. Schiff, who called on the pres­i­dent to chal­lenge Mr. Putin on the elec­tion hack­ing.

“Pres­i­dent Trump must have the courage to raise the is­sue of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tions di­rectly with Pres­i­dent Putin; oth­er­wise, the Krem­lin will con­clude he is too weak to stand up to them. That would be a his­toric mis­take, with dam­ag­ing im­pli­ca­tions for our for­eign pol­icy for years to come,” Mr. Schiff said.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and four other top Democrats urged Mr. Trump in a let­ter to “dis­cuss the ele­phant in the room” when he meets with Mr. Putin.

“Pres­i­dent Putin di­rected an at­tack on the most cen­tral tenet of our democ­racy — our elec­tion,” the law­mak­ers wrote. “Not raising this mat­ter with Pres­i­dent Putin would be a se­vere dere­lic­tion of the duty of the of­fice to which you were elected.”

Not­ing the midterm elec­tions next year, they told Mr. Trump that “the up­com­ing elec­tions can­not be a play­ground for Pres­i­dent Putin.”

Whether or not Mr. Trump plans to con­front Mr. Putin on the elec­tion, he is cer­tain to chal­lenge the Rus­sian leader over Moscow’s mil­i­tary sup­port of the Syr­ian regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

The U.S. and its al­lies in Syria are fight­ing the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group — a fight that has drawn U.S. forces into close calls with Rus­sian and Syr­ian troops.

Mr. Trump had high hopes at the start of his pres­i­dency that Rus­sia would co­op­er­ate with the U.S. in de­stroy­ing the Is­lamic State in Syria and Iraq, deny­ing the ter­ror­ist group a home base. He has praised Mr. Putin as a “strong leader” who rou­tinely got the bet­ter of Mr. Obama in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Although re­la­tions with Moscow have de­te­ri­o­rated over Syria, Mr. Trump still has hopes of work­ing with Mr. Putin. His com­ments in Poland on Thurs­day seemed de­signed to keep Mr. Putin at arm’s length with­out shut­ting off any chance of deal-mak­ing.

In dis­cus­sions Thurs­day night at the G-20 sum­mit, Mr. Trump agreed with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on the need for “re-en­er­giz­ing” the Minsk agree­ment, which calls for a cease-fire be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists in eastern Ukraine, and for a peace set­tle­ment.

In one move sure to ran­kle Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump voiced a clear com­mit­ment to NATO’s Ar­ti­cle 5 prin­ci­ple of com­mon de­fense, re­as­sur­ing Euro­peans who had wor­ried about his sup­port for the al­liance. He said Euro­peans should never ques­tion the U.S. com­mit­ment to NATO.

“The United States has demon­strated not merely with words but with its ac­tions that we stand firmly be­hind Ar­ti­cle 5, the mu­tual de­fense com­mit­ment,” Mr. Trump said.

The pres­i­dent raised con­cerns among al­lies in the spring when, dur­ing a visit to NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels, he ne­glected to men­tion Ar­ti­cle 5.

Mr. Trump also poked a sym­bolic finger in Mr. Putin’s eye by prais­ing Poland’s ef­forts to de­ploy a mis­sile de­fense shield, a move stren­u­ously op­posed by Moscow.

“We ap­plaud Poland for its de­ci­sion to move for­ward this week on ac­quir­ing from the United States the bat­tle-tested Pa­triot air and mis­sile de­fense sys­tem — the best any­where in the world,” Mr. Trump said.

But Mr. Trump re­minded the au­di­ence in Poland, “Our de­fense is not just a com­mit­ment of money; it is a com­mit­ment of will.”

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